Mathematical Writing Notes for MCS-236 (Fall 2011)

There are many books on writing mathematics and computer science. I'll bring some examples to class to show you resources that are available. There is a also a set of notes on the topic available for free on the web. These notes originated from a course Don Knuth taught at Stanford in 1987. Please read at least the first six pages of those notes. After that, feel free to browse the later pages and pause to read any that look interesting to you. There are some good examples and some alternative perspectives from people other than Knuth. (In particular, polite disagreements arise over some of the rules stated in the first six pages.)

If you have questions about any of Knuth's rules from the first six pages, please come prepared to ask about them. Otherwise, we will spend our class time working on an example writing problem.

We will look at two student's solutions to Exercise 2.26. I am linking here the LaTeX source and displayable PDF versions of Student 1's solution and the LaTeX source and displayable PDF versions of Student 2's solution. As preparation for class, please read these two solutions and think about the following questions. We'll discuss these questions, but mostly we'll work on jointly writing an improved solution to the exercise, bringing together the helpful features from these two solutions along with some new ideas.

  1. What similar choices did the two students make in how they structured their writing?

  2. What are some of the most fundamental differences between the two solutions?

  3. For the shared features, which seem helpful? Which create difficulties for the reader?

  4. Where the two students' choices differ, which do you find more helpful? Why?

As a class, we developed an improved solution to this exercise. Here's the LaTeX source and PDF version.